Known for their ability to aid digestion and to help maintain “gut health” (defined as “the physical state and physiologic function of the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract”), probiotic supplements are often listed as one of the ways to ensure general health and wellbeing, particularly in older people, and are often used or advised within medical treatments for those suffering from a range of digestive system-centered diseases and conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea.
The term “probiotic” is derived from old language, like most scientific and medical terminology; in this case, from a mixture of Latin and Greek – “pro” (Lat.) and “bios” (Gr.) literally meaning “for life.”
In 1953, the term probiotic was first used by Kollath to describe “various organic and inorganic supplements that were believed to have the ability to restore the health of malnourished patients.” A year later, Ferdinand Vergin, a German researcher, proposed the term “probiotika” to describe “active substances that are essential for a healthy development of life.”
However, even before then, back in 1930, the study of what later became described as probiotics led to Japanese microbiologist Minoru Shirota first discovering that bacterial flora survived passage through the gut after ingestion. Subsequently, he was able to isolate and cultivate what is now known as “Lactobacillus casei strain shirotahirota,”
Shirota’s probiotic research led to the first fermented bacteria-containing drink, which was commercially marketed as Yakult in 1935 – the product still continues to be manufactured and sold worldwide today.
The World Health Organization (or WHO) today describe probiotics as “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.” Furthermore, they drafted guidelines regarding the use of probiotics, with new terminology arising:
- Prebiotics: Defined as “indigestible food ingredients that selectively promote the growth or activity of beneficial bacteria, thereby benefiting the host,” and
- Synbiotics: Defined as “combinations of probiotics and prebiotics designed to improve the survival of ingested microorganisms and their colonization of the intestinal tract”
Probiotics = Good Bacteria
How do probiotics, often advertised as “good bacteria,” work for our health when, and without a doubt, bacteria has an earned reputation for actually causing disease.
Although the idea or concept of adding live bacteria to their system may sound somewhat alien to some people, the use of probiotics can now be considered as a therapy for many medical complaints, and a natural tonic for the health of large demographics in society, notably our older generations.
The gut is the organ of the body responsible for the digestion of food and the absorption of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals essential for health. It naturally contains trillions of bacteria that are important for these processes to ensure that we exact as much nutrition as possible from what we consume.
Probiotics are the “good bacteria” found in certain food products or supplements that benefit our health by improving the balance and function of the gut bacteria. They are found in many different forms, such as yoghurts, or in probiotic capsules, tablets and sachets. Generally considered safe for all ages, care should be taken by people with weakened or dysfunctional immune systems should ask for specific advice from their doctor or dietitian.
Probiotics work by restoring a better balance of the gut bacteria, which can then help our body function much better. Eating or drinking probiotics results in them competing for space and competing against the food with unhealthy bacteria – by evicting them from our gut.
Additionally, probiotics also stimulate our own immune system to help to fight against infection far better. For example, some studies have shown that probiotics can shorten the time it takes to recover from a simple cold, and helps to improve the body’s response to vaccines – highly relevant in today’s corona world. Lastly, probiotics also help to digest the fibre content of our diet. In the process of doing this, probiotics produce acid compounds that keep our gut lining healthy.
Your 4 Essential Benefits of Using Probiotic Supplements
#1. Boosting Gut Health & Overall Wellbeing
According to scientists, certain demographics, most notably the elderly, should take probiotic supplements, as they could help to protect older people against bowel conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Because people over 60 years of age have around 1,000 times less “friendly” bacteria in their guts compared with other adult age groups, probiotic supplements help to reestablish a more balanced presence of bacteria in the gut. Professor of food microbiology at Reading University Glenn Gibson has stated: “The (scientific) literature has reported about 80 human studies with positive results against bowel conditions like travellers diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome and antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.” He added: “While probiotic products were useful for the healthy population, they would be even more beneficial for older people.”
#2. Benefiting Women’s Health & Their Baby’s Health
For the mother of a newly-born baby, one of the main problems they face is the prospect of their child suffering with colic – a distressing situation for both mother and baby. However, studies in Australia led by Dr. Valerie Sung, from the University of Melbourne, have found that probiotic drops can help to reduce the associated crying, particularly with breastfed babies..
#3. Probiotics & Cognitive Health
There is now growing evidence, stemming from medical research, that there is a direct link between gut bacteria / probiotics and cognitive health. Here’s why:
- You’re actually more microbe than human – if you count all the cells in your body, only 43% are human
- The rest is our microbiome, defined as “the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in a particular environment” – it includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and single-celled archaea (a type of microorganism)
- The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes
- However, if you add all the genes in our microbiome together, the total figure comes out at between 2 – 20 million microbial genes – this is known as the second genome, and is linked to diseases including allergy, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, whether cancer drugs work, and even depression and autism
#4. Improving Exercise Outcomes
Probiotic supplements research has found that they reduce the overall number and length of infections suffered by long-distance runners. Athletes are vulnerable to coughs and colds because rigorous training can affect the immune system. For example, the British Journal of Sports Medicine study found that by taking probiotics, athletes more than halved the days they had such symptoms.
Furthermore, a British specialist, Professor Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London reported that the same effect was less likely for people who were less active. The new bacteria introduced into the gut is small compared to those already present; however, it is clear the probiotics are having a positive effect on metabolism.
Have you ever tried probiotic supplements? What were the benefits that you experienced? Please feel free to add a comment below. Thank you.